Wisconsin Supreme Court

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Wisconsin Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Chief:  $154,000
Associates:  $146,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Non-partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Active justices

Shirley Abrahamson  •  Ann Walsh Bradley  •  N. Patrick Crooks  •  Patience Roggensack  •  Annette Ziegler  •  Michael Gableman  •  David T. Prosser  •  

Seal of Wisconsin.png

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the highest appellate court in the state of Wisconsin. Seven justices, selected in non-partisan elections for 10-year terms, sit on the state's court of last resort. The court has jurisdiction over all other Wisconsin courts and can also hear original actions.[1]


While justices are selected in non-partisan elections, a party identification is provided if a justice is generally associated with a political party.

The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected byParty
Chief justice Shirley Abrahamson1976-2019Gov. Patrick LuceyDemocratic
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley1995-2015ElectedDemocratic
Justice N. Patrick Crooks1996-2016ElectedRepublican
Justice Patience Roggensack2003-2023ElectedRepublican
Justice Annette Ziegler2007-2017ElectedRepublican
Justice Michael Gableman2008 - 2018ElectedRepublican
Justice David T. Prosser1998 - 2021Gov. Tommy ThompsonRepublican

Judicial selection

The court is composed of seven justices who are elected to ten-year terms in state-wide, non-partisan elections. Only one justice may be elected in any year. In the event of a vacancy on the court, the governor has the power to appoint an individual to the vacancy, but that justice must then stand for election in the first year where no other justice's term expires.[2]


Per Article VII, Section 24 of the Wisconsin Constitution, to qualify for a judgeship in Wisconsin a person must be:

  • Licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for a minimum of five years
  • Under the age of 70[3]

For the ballot access and campaign finance requirements for candidates in Wisconsin, see: Ballotpedia's Ballot access requirements for political candidates in Wisconsin.

Chief justice

The justice with the longest continuous service on the court serves as the chief justice, unless that justice declines, in which case the role passes to the next senior justice of the court. Shirley Abrahamson is the current chief justice.[2]

Chief justice selection amendment

A measure in the Wisconsin State Legislature would change the method of selecting the court's chief justice, requiring justices to elect one of their peers to the position. This measure was approved by the state Senate on November 12, 2013. In order for the amendment to get on the ballot for voter approval, it must be approved by a majority of both chambers of the state Legislature in two separate sessions. (See: Ballotpedia's Amending state constitutions).[4]

For more information, see: News: Wisconsin lawmakers propose changes to supreme court, January 13, 2015


See also: Judicial selection in Wisconsin

The supreme court has jurisdiction over original actions, appeals from lower courts, and regulation or administration of the practice of law in Wisconsin. Most commonly, the supreme court reviews cases that were appealed from the court of appeals.[5]


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2013 807 732
2012 784 824
2011 809 681
2010 717 762
2009 777 740
2008 824 812
2007 810 826



See also: Wisconsin judicial elections, 2015

General election, 2015
Ann Walsh Bradley Incumbent
James Daley

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Wisconsin was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Wisconsin received a score of 0.42. Based on the justices selected, Wisconsin was the 11th most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[8]


Judicial conduct

The Code of Judicial Conduct was first adopted by the state supreme court on November 14, 1967, effective January 1, 1968. It was amended in 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1979. There are five main sections of the code:

  • A judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
  • A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities.
  • A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently.
  • A judge shall so conduct the judge's extra-judicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial obligations.
  • A judge or judicial candidate shall refrain from inappropriate political activity.[9][10]

Read more of the Code of Judicial Conduct here.

Removal of justices

Justices may be removed in one of 3 ways:

  • They may be impeached, with the senate acting as the court for the trial of impeachment.
  • They may be removed by address of both houses of the legislature if two-thirds of each house agree. The justice must be given a copy of the charges and is able to be heard.[11]
  • They may be recalled.[12]

Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Wisconsin earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[13]

Notable decisions

Historic cases

The Wisconsin state capitol in Madison, which houses the Wisconsin Supreme Court

20th Century

19th Century

History of the court

WI Supreme Court room.png

An appellate court system was created in the territory of Wisconsin in 1836. The circuit court judges would gather in Madison once a year as a "supreme court" to hear appeals of their own rulings. When Wisconsin became a state in 1848, they decided to keep the current system for 5 years, and then decide whether create a separate supreme court. In 1852, the state legislature decided to establish the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The following year, three men were chosen as the first justices. A constitutional amendment in 1877 increased the number of justices to five and the term length from six to ten years. Another constitutional amendment in 1903 further increased the number of justices to seven.[22]

Former justices

Notable firsts

  • Lavinia Goodell was a Janesville attorney and the first woman to apply for admission to the bar of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (at that time, practice before the state’s high court required admission to a separate bar). In the first case in 1875, her application was denied; in the second, following a legislative act that prohibited denial of bar admissions based on gender, she was admitted in 1879.[23]
  • Shirley Abrahamson was the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and, subsequently the first female chief justice.

Public funding debate

The Democracy Trust Fund was passed with Act 89 and Act 216 in 2009, and took effect on May 1, 2010. The fund provided public funding to supreme court candidates who applied and qualified for the grants. Money was collected with a voluntary $3 dollar check off on state tax returns, which would not decrease the amount of a tax refund or increase taxes owed by the individual. The amounts of the grants were $150,000 for candidates qualifying for the primary, and $300,000 for the general.[24][25]

In 2011, the Democracy Trust Fund was cancelled, along with the other public financing program in the state, the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund. This change was a part of the 2011-2013 budget bill signed by Governor Scott Walker. Walker had proposed changing the public financing programs to "add-on" donations. Donations of this kind already exist on tax returns, where tax payers can choose to donate to endangered species or to cancer research, for example. These donations do decrease the tax refund or increase the amount of taxes owed. Kevin Kennedy, the executive director of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, speculated that this change would decrease donations from about $200,000 per year to somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000. The state legislature's Joint Finance Committee instead decided to get rid of the campaign financing programs altogether. There is now no public financing of campaigns for any Wisconsin candidates.[26]

Published study

The idea of public funding for court races goes back to at least 2000. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a study sponsored by the non-partisan group Wisconsin Citizen Action found that nearly 75% of the high court's cases from 2000 to 2010 involved at least one campaign contributor, although there was no connection found between donations and court decisions. Carolyn Castore of Wisconsin Citizen Action applauded the move towards public-funded elections back when the Democracy Trust Fund was being created, saying, "In an effort to clean up the way Supreme Court races are funded, the committee has taken a giant step towards ensuring the impartiality and independence of the Wisconsin Supreme Court."[27]

See also

External links


  1. Wisconsin Court System, "Supreme Court," accessed September 18, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wisconsin State Legislature, "Wisconsin Constitution," accessed September 19, 2014 (Artible VII, Section 4: pg.10)
  3. Wisconsin State Legislature, "Wisconsin Constitution," accessed September 19, 2014 (Artible VII, Section 24: pg.11)
  4. Connecticut Post, "Wisconsin Senate passes chief justice amendment," November 12, 2013
  5. Wisconsin Blue Book, "Supreme Court," 2005-2006
  6. Wisconsin Court System, "Publications, reports and addresses: Annual reports," accessed September 18, 2014
  7. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Candidates Registered 2015 Spring Election," January 8, 2015
  8. Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
  9. Wisconsin Court System, "Code of Judicial Conduct," accessed September 18, 2014
  10. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  11. Wisconsin Constitution, "Article VII: Judiciary, Sections 1 & 13," accessed September 19, 2014
  12. Wisconsin Legislature, "Section 9.10 Post election actions; direct legislation: Recall," accessed Septmeber 19, 2014
  13. Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 San Francisco Gate, "Wis. court: Police use of GPS in burglary case OK," February 6, 2013
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 The Republic, "Wisconsin Supreme Court says police's installation of GPS in burglary suspect's car was OK," February 6, 2013
  16. Fox11, "Supreme Court rejects appeal in GPS planting case," February 6, 2013 (dead link)
  17. The Daily Cardinal, "DOA will enforce union law despite injunction," March 31, 2011
  18. Wisconsin State Journal, "Judge strikes down Walker's collective bargaining law, case moves to state Supreme Court," May 26, 2011
  19. Wisconsin Reporter, "Judge: Collective bargaining bill violated open meetings law," May 26, 2011
  20. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Supreme Court reinstates collective bargaining law," June 14, 2011
  21. Foley.com, "Wisconsin Supreme Court Affirms That Enterprise-Wide Software Is Exempt as "Custom" Computer Program," July 11, 2008
  22. 22.0 22.1 Wisconsin Court System, "Portraits of Justice: Introduction," 2003
  23. Wisconsin Court System, "Famous cases: Motion to admit Miss Lavinia Goodell to the Bar of this Court and Application of Miss Goodell," accessed September 19, 2014
  24. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Wisconsin Impartial Justice Act and Democracy Trust Fund," accessed September 19, 2014
  25. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Public Funding," accessed September 19, 2014
  26. Wisconsin Watch, "Campaign financing dead in Wisconsin," June 30, 2011
  27. Brennan Center for Justice, "Wisconsin Judicial Elections," accessed September 19, 2014

Portions of this article have been taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Copyright Notice can be found here.